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You must understand the worthlessness of money and riches. You must not chase after honor and fickle praise. These things all pass away with the world, and they bring no joy if the spirit of devotion is missing. Neither will you experience peace if it is sought from anyone or anything but God.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 503-505). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We don’t know of many who, on their deathbeds, wish they had made more money, won more contests, or built a bigger empire. The only things worthwhile are the things we can take with us, or perhaps more accurately, the things that go on before us. 

I have spent a fair amount of time in nursing homes. What is of value there are visits from family or notes from friends. On the tiny bed tables aren’t pictures of houses or cars or camps. There are photos, often grayed and frayed, of family or cards once barely noticed but now deeply cherished. In that way, nursing homes are like prison cells, there too the memories of family and friends too infrequently seen or heard from, are the most valuable items. 

When we are isolated from what we love, we finally understand the solidary importance of loved ones and the memories of them above all else.

Futile Hope and Pride

We fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4: 18

What are you putting your hope in? You know what you’re suppose to say, but where is your hope, really? In your job, or your bank account, your health, your family, your education, your property or investments? All futile.

Don’t depend upon yourself, but put your hope in God.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 478-479). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The great “gottcha” in this life is that the things we can see and put our hands on are the things that rust, deteriorate, and waste away. It’s the things we can’t see that last. We are fooled by this repeatedly.

Drive around sometime. There are once great cities that are in ruins, yes, even in this country. There are abandoned malls. The August 2016 flood reminded us just how temporary and futile is trusting in material things.  

Perhaps the best way to refocus on what is important but unseen is to imagine us on the last day of our lives. Of what will we be proud? What will we regret? What will pass away? What will remain?

Lord, make us wise enough to properly place our eyes and hope.

Unloveable

It’s amazing just how unloveable we are.  We all know folks who are unloveable, but we don’t really have to look further than our mirrors to spot an unloveable person. The fact that there may be some less loveable than ourselves, doesn’t save us from the unloveable label. This is particularly true when we consider the love of God.

That the perfect holy being loves us and, in fact, loves us unconditionally is beyond understanding. We are too foul and unholy to even be in his presence. Only the sacrificial death of his son makes even approaching the most high possible. 

Even with this in mind, we still place unreasonable expectations on God. While there are millions in the world who wake up each day not knowing where their next meal is coming from, we feel justified in expecting God to provide us with long term assurance of safety and comfort. 

We feel betrayed and abandoned if we suffer any pain, loss or inconvenience. In fact, we believe our “status” as his children should guarantee us life long security and peace. The fact that this is totally inconsistent with the history of the church and the lives of the disciples who personally knew Jesus seems to keep escaping us. 

We need a new humbler attitude about our lives and our God’s place in it. We need to be thankful for every breath, every morsel of food, every sip of water, every piece of the peace and freedom we enjoy. We need to respond with more than grateful hearts, but with lives dedicated to service to the one who loves us in multitudinous ways  every day.

 

On Loving Jesus Above All

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” Matthew 10: 37

This is one of those verses that make me say, “I must be missing something.” Until I give it some thought. It makes stark the reality that we are supposed to love Jesus above all. 

One day, we will be separated from family and friends— whether we wish it or not— but we will never be separated from Christ.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 436-437). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Face it. We can’t trust anyone like we can Jesus. Everyone else will turn on us, will disappoint us, will put something above us. We need to realize what this verse says and what it doesn’t say. It says we are to put Jesus first. It doesn’t say we are not to love others. In fact, the way we are identified as followers of Jesus is the way we love others. 

In fact, putting Jesus first is a matter of putting ourselves last. It means putting others ahead of ourselves. It means allocating our time to Jesus and the things that he commands of us. It means being missional. 

By putting Jesus first, we are enabled to love others, like our mother and father or our son or daughter, in a way we could never love them without Jesus.

When you put this verse in perspective, it no longer seems strange. It seems perfectly reasonable.

Personal Savior

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

The idea that the Lord of the Universe would send His son to die for mankind is an overwhelming thought. It is very difficult for us to get our minds around that idea. Somehow, we do.

More difficult is the concept of a personal savior. We have a love/hate relationship with intimacy. We deeply wish for someone to know us completely and yet to love us. Yet we are far too familiar with the darkness inside. We know what rests in the dark corners of our souls. We can’t believe that someone would completely know us and still love us. It’s the greatest insecurity that we carry through life. 

We play games in our relationships. We put forward an “us” that is not a true or complete picture. We show only part of us. I have known my wife for forty-eight years. We know each other pretty well and are still in love. Even after all that, we are reluctant to share every thought, our deepest and darkest secrets. We still harbor the fear that complete knowledge would kill love.

That’s not possible with Jesus. He knows us completely,  more than anyone else ever could, yet He loves us enough to die for us. He is still willing to call us “friend” and to share with us everything the Father has shared with Him. Just try to get your mind around that. The complete and freeing intimacy that we all crave is possible. Only with Jesus. 

Unforgiveness Cleanse

In order to be spiritually healthy the love of God has to flow freely within us. Sometimes that flow gets blocked by our propensity for unforgiveness.  Sometimes we just need an unforgiveness cleanse.

Every once in awhile, I like to sit down with a pad of paper and record my unforgiveness status. First, I consider what patterns of sin I have fallen into and what I need to bring to the Father in confession. That’s why I need a pad of paper. The list is usually pretty long.

Then I turn to those whom I need to forgive. Sometimes at this point I need a whole new fresh pad. In this rough and tumble world it’s pretty easy to get bruised and hurt. Those kinds of bruises don’t just fade away with time. It seems they have to be specifically addressed.

I then turn to those who probably have reason to hold me in unforgiveness and who probably need some move toward reconciliation from me. This is the toughest list. It requires a humbling admission that I have been causing some bruises to others as I bump and grind through life. The tough part of this is to decide whether I need to just recognize what I have done or am doing and just stop, or whether I need to make contact and apologize and/or make correction.

We need to be careful here. There is a tendency to say “I need to apologize to this person.” When we really mean they need to apologize to me and I need to just give them the opportunity to see that I am hurt.  This kind of plan never goes well. Trust me. 

Once we get the plaque like unforgiveness out of our system, the love of God can restart the flow through  us and, just maybe, we can become recognizable again as children of God.

 

Dying for the Ungodly

The United States launched an attack on Syria, principally because of our outrage at the horrible death of young innocents. We were willing to risk public condemnation and even death of our own because of the injustice we saw.

We were not so innocent when the Lord of the Universe allowed his only son to die for us. He didn’t wait until we cleaned up or even took one step toward purity and holiness. That’s a kind of love that’s foreign to our understanding.

We marry for life or until our partner no longer meets our needs. We love others as long as they look like us, talk like us, and are unoffensive to us. Our love is completely conditional. Our God loved without condition and before we had any hint of loveableness in us. 

We are so pathetic when, even after coming to Christ, we strive to love on our own. The agape love of Jesus is possible only through the accomplished work of Jesus through the ongoing work of His Holy Spirit. We are incapable of it on our own. 

I am proud that our country struck back in outrage at the death of innocents splashed before us on television screens. I just wish we had the morality to act similarly at the decades of death and torture that have been taking place off screen in the much less in our face scenarios in Africa. 

O Lord my God, very God and very man, what a wonderful thing, worthy of faith, and surpassing all the understanding of humankind, that you give yourself to us. Your bread and wine is inexhaustible food. You, O Lord of all, who have need of nothing, have desired to dwell in us.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 390-392). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I love and will strive to serve a God who loved me when I was even more unloveable than I am now. 

 

Rooted in Love

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ Ephesians 3

When we become “in Christ” we become branches in a vine that is rooted in love. That wide, long, high and deep love of Christ is the source of our life and power. It energizes our mission. It replaces our pathetic attempts to live and love without Jesus. 

Back in August, our yard was flooded for days. The flood waters killed the roots of dozens of bushes and trees. Some of the plants seemed alive for a while, but not for long. As spring arrived and the time for fruit production arrived, the truth of their death became clear. 

We can’t live without roots planted in love. We can exist and portray a form of life, that’s really just dressed up death. Our purpose is not to be the fruits of love but channels of love. It’s like water that must flow to be alive, we must be channels of moving love to be truly alive. 

As that unending flow continues, we gradually learn of the extent of that love. It grows in power and impact as the flow runs unabated. 

Love is power, only when it’s root is real, it’s channel is open, and it really has no end.